A tale of 2 nations

MM Lee Kuan Yew’s visit to Malaysia, as he has said, is to feel the pulse of the people. Well, as an experience politician, who was once fighting within the system here, he is perhaps the best qualified of all SIngapore politicians to judge how and where Malaysia is heading.

I still remember 1964, when I was a primary school boy, following my father to the Esplanade in Penang to listen to the speech of Lee, who was then campaigning hard for PAP’s candidates in the 1964 General Election. The field was full of people (at that time, political rally was allowed), and what I remember was the thunderous claps that Lee received throughout his speech.

I cannot remember how many seats PAP contested in Penang then, since I was too young, but apparently, despite the huge turnout of people, PAP did not win any seats in Penang, where it fought against Alliance, United Democratic Party of Tun Dr Lim CHong Eu, and the Socialist Front . DR Lim of course won his Tanjung parliamentary seat , despite the many cornered fights. If I have remembered correctly, PAP won only the Bangsar seat  with Devan Nair as the sole  PAP MPs.

I suspect MM Lee must be secretly laughing inside now. In 1965, when Singapore was forced to go separate ways, after Lee trying to galvanise opposition parties such as UDP, PPP (under D.R. Seenivasagam), and parties from East Malaysia into a loose association, and this action was seen as challenging the Ketuanan supremacy.

At that time, economically SIngapore was at the same level as Malaysia. In fact, when I was studying in University of SIngapore in the 70s, Malaysian ringgit at one time was bigger than Singapore Dollars in exchange rate .

Now that Singapore has attained a first world standard in economy as well as many other aspects, Malaysia is far behind in many aspects, not only economically, but in the fields of education, excellence, governance.

He must be secretly  gladful that SIngapore came out of Malaysia in 1965.   51 years after Independence, Malaysia is still embroiled in race politics. In everything and anything, race is the prime consideration, and that has really hampered the advance of the nation as a whole and  polarise the people . Because of the ‘clutch’ mentality, everything in Malaysia has degraded from excellence to mediocrity. Even in sports such as football, we are now in the lowest hierarchy.

During my time, University Malaya and University of Singpaore were ranked as equal , as with University of HOng KOng — especially the rankings of the 3 medical schools. It is now so different; while Univeristy of HongKOng and University of Singapore are consistently ranked among the top universites in the world and Asia, ours is now ranked low down in the list ( some may say it is not even on the list) .

Incidentally, I think this university ranking can be taken as representative of everything comparative among the 2 countries.

It is true that economically we have also progressed, but the point of contention is  we could have progressed much much more, if a different approach has been taken instead.

 Imagine, if we could have progressed much more, and is as rich as Australia, even the poorest among us will be living a better life than now. All of us, regardless of colour, would have a better life than now.



29 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. clearwater
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 13:51:47

    Dr Hsu,

    Please do not make comparisons between Malaysia and Singapore; it can make grown men cry…….. and you do not want to see that happen. In addition, Singapore is now a migrant friendly city state and many people may call on you to migrate there if you do not like it here.

    Yes, if we had done the right things, most if not all Malaysians would be better off and none worse off. However, we have to live with our mess and it is still better late than never. Except never seems more likely in my lifetime as each day passes without apparent progress. Sigh……


  2. A true Malaysian
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 14:38:41

    Dr. Hsu,

    “n everything and anything, race is the prime consideration….” 😀

    You should send this article to The Malaysian Insider and Malaysiakini, before MM Lee Kuan Yew fly back to Singapore.

    Even MM Lee go down field to field the pause, KTK, OTK, doing that also?


  3. Ken
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 15:24:51

    Imagine how Sabah and Sarawak with their rich natural resources would be like now if they had joined Singapore.

    They can rightly say they had thrown off the shackles of the British only to be neo-colonized by Umno.


  4. Meng
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 16:02:27

    I strongly believe if the present Penang government is maintained and supported by the local we may one day also see excellence governance in penang.

    LGE has all the abilities to make Penang “The State” in malaysia. However he has to put up strong defences against the bn idiots of undermining his govt.

    In due time, penang should also consider opening up a U to rival the public U which have fallen way down the ladder.

    There are plenty of Brains in DAP to make this happen. Take TAR college in KL, their graduates are much sort after and even before the graduation day some of them are employed.

    LGE is the way forward.. ..


  5. ruyom
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 17:04:45

    Lee Kuan Yew said the relationship between Malaysia and Singapore has not always been smooth sailing, and so investing in the Iskandar Development Region (IDR) may not always be smooth sailing for Singaporean companies.

    This is simply a statement of fact that nevertheless appears to have gotten local Umno leaders into a tizzy.

    Every local Umno politician hopes to be in a position to be approving investment flows into the country because to stand as gatekeeper is a very lucrative position, and when public squabbles erupt between Umno politicians about who is the better “protector of malay privileges and rights”, it usually means someone just wants a bigger cut of the investment action for himself.

    Go figure that one.

    Of course, the relationship between Malaysia and Singapore is special because of the race relations issue.

    Singapore has been the favourite whipping boy of the Umno-controlled malay vernacular press for the last 50 years, and if anything are seen as even bigger devils than the local Chinese and Indian citizens of Malaysia in the eyes of Malaysia’s malay Muslims.

    The fact is Singapore’s development model has meant that Singapore’s malays are far better educated, far better equipped, far better paid, far more self-confident, and self-reliant to deal with globalisation than malay Muslims in Malaysia.

    This makes Ketuanan Melayu, malay Agenda, and the NEP look like failed racist apartheid policies that have impoverished everyone except Umno cronies. Of course, Umno must demonise Singapore to maintain the illusion that Umno politicians are nationalists and not parasites, and more so if Singapore happens to be better educated, meritocratic, richer, and safer than Malaysia.

    Malay Muslims in Malaysia have been brainwashed by Umno for the last 50 years into thinking that the Chinese and Indians both Malaysians and Singaporeans have gotten rich at their expense, and this perception probably won’t change anytime soon because Umno does not have another elections winning formula if it dumps the present demonisation formulas.

    Every time Singapore’s first world achievements are compared with the sluggish competitiveness, economic, educational, professional, scientific, technological, and social standard in apartheid Malaysia, there is the predictable keris waving, baying for blood, and frothing at the mouth in every Umno up and down the country in Malaysia.

    Although Chinese and Indian Malaysians have simply accepted the gross racial discrimination in business, education, and job as a fact of life in Malaysia, the non-apartheid non-NEP meritocratic Singaporean mindset may not have the stomach for this particular type of nonsense in the IDR.

    I think Lee Kuan Yew is way too smart to think the demonisation process of the Chinese and Indians in the Umno-controlled malay vernacular press is going to stop anytime soon. How else is Umno going to win elections except by continuing to perpetrate the lie that the orang asing minorities in Malaysia are a threat to the malays?

    Nevertheless Lee Kuan Yew may be hoping Chinese and Indian Singaporean investors will not be discriminated against in the IDR in comparison with investors from countries like China, Europe, Hong Kong, India, Taiwan, United Kingdom, and United States.

    In the meantime, I am sure it will simply be business as usual for the rest of us in racial and religious apartheid Malaysia.


  6. romerz
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 17:13:22

    ruyom, you hit the nail on the head!


  7. clarence
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 17:15:45

    Dr. Hsu,

    Whenever I gather with Malaysian and Singaporean family and friends at reunion dinners and parties, inevitably our conversations drift to the “tale of 2 nations” as you so aptly described.

    We Malaysians no doubt often debate and ponder the “what-ifs” and “what-could-have been” hypotheses with our Singaporean counterparts. We also lament the sorry state of affairs in our homeland. We then reflect on why these 2 nations, both arising from the same page and time in the chronicles of World History, but yet 50 years onwards, one has achieved First World status while the other is still mired in Third World status and mentality.

    Ironically, both nations share one thing in common – its people. We originate from the same biological stock and share the same gene pool. Sometimes, when my inebriated Singaporean friends tried to put on airs about their superiority, I never fail to remind them that their ancestors were once Malaysians. That their great Minister Mentor was once an upstart in Malaysian politics. And not to forget the thousands of Malaysian professionals who today make Singapore their land of milk and honey, courtesy of Malaysia’s perpetual “brain drain” exporting machine.

    One can easily imagine what a great nation Malaysia could have become if only we have better stewards to lead and govern the country. Malaysia has many times more human capital, land capital, and natural resource capital than Singapore. Presumably, one can envision the combined economies of the 11 states in peninsular Malaysia to be as vast as 11 Singapore economies put together.

    There is so much that Malaysians are capable of achieving. Yet today, according to IMF 2008 data, our GDP per capita is ranked #60 compared with Singapore’s GDP rank of #4. World Bank 2007 data ranks Malaysia’s GDP per capita at #48 vs #3 for Singapore (source: Wikipedia).

    Malaysia is forever handicapping itself if its leaders continue to govern on the basis of race and religion. The country cannot aspire to greatness if they make laws and formulate policies that is akin to “Cutting off the nose to spite the face”. They need to stop protecting and upholding one race to the detriment of others.

    Our Malay friends and neighbors should learn from a telling observation readily apparent to them. Whereas your Chinese and Indian friends are bilingual, trilingual, or polyglot, with much thanks to BM being the official language, are you not embarrassed to only speak one language?

    To the young Malay professional, think of how much more marketable you can become in the global economy if you are multilingual. So why let your own government handicap you in the guise of protecting your native language? Why not join the non-Malays to become champions for fairness and equality?

    Realize also that, as much as the government makes life difficult for the non-Malays, they only succeed in making them more resilient, enterprising, and adaptable. You can be just like them too if you tell the government to stop the pampering and spoon-feeding.

    Far from envying Singapore’s achievements, I can only hope for a better future for Malaysia if our leaders wake up to smell the roses. Alongside the mantra of “Malaysia Boleh” let us also practice the Cantonese motto “yow fook toong heong, yow lan toong tong” meaning “we prosper we share together, we suffer we bear together”. Perhaps if we practice and combine this saying with the famous motto “all for one, and one for all”, maybe then the true meaning of 1Malaysia will emerge and become a blessing to all Malaysians instead of just an empty slogan.


  8. cilipadi
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 17:51:21

    I know some Umno bloggers are ex-Singaporean Malays, but when they become Malaysian, their mindsets changed as well.

    Do you know who are these bloggers? One of them very famous….

    umno bloggers makan cili, umno bloggers rasa pedas


  9. Disgusted
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 19:45:44

    Simple thought that pointed how useless UMNO leadership has been in developing this country which has EVERYTHING in terms of natural resources.

    SINGAPORE with ALMOST NOTHING except human resources. The number of hills and mountains here even out beat the highest ground level in Singapore.

    YET, Malaysia is neither here nor there. Our governance, currency, education….etc kaput compared to other developing countries, even Indonesia. They produced more haze than us!



  10. klm
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 20:51:58

    monk. You are wrong. Malaysia produces more bullshits than other developing countries – maybe with the exception of Zimbawe. Rmember the work with me and work for me, and the 1Malaysia etc


  11. klm
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 20:59:33

    Oh yeah! Almost forgot about the Superminister bit.


  12. Kenny Gan
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 22:41:44

    Very well written, Clarence but hoping for our leaders to wake up and smell the roses is too optimistic.

    Malaysia can only realize its full potential through a change of government, nothing less.

    For the first time in its history, such a change is possible. I view it as not only possible but unstoppable.

    The mood of the people demand change but this regime cannot change. Not its racial policies nor its endemic corruption. So it will be kicked out by the people.

    The political change coming is unstoppable even if PR breaks apart. Such is the momentum.

    We live in interesting times. We are witnessing the death throes of a decadent regime and the birth pangs of a new order.


  13. A true Malaysian
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 23:53:01

    Kenny Gan,

    I agree. It is unstoppable. Any coalition is deemed better than BN.

    There are hick-ups here and there in PR, but I believe they can be fine-tuned.

    There are hard-liners in PAS, but there are even more people like Nizar, Khalid Samad, Husam, Mahfoz there. Nik Aziz still has much influence in PAS, not Hadi or Nasharudin.

    Voters’ eyes are clear.


  14. daffodils
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 01:18:42

    Lee is the principal architect of Singapore’s political stability and its economic development throughout Asia. His zeal for law and order was legendary. To detractors, he is uncompromising and authoritarian.

    He is a man of great intelligence, with no patience for mediocrity. What really set this complex man apart from Asia’s other nation-builders is what he didn’t do: he did not become corrupt, and he did not stay in power too long.

    In almost every sphere of governance, Singapore is in the forefront. Singapore is an economic powerhouse with one of the world’s highest per capita incomes, highly ranked universities, high-quality schools, health care and public services that have made it a magnet for global labor. In the recent ranking of public services among Asian nations, Singapore occupied top position. NUS is ranked no 30 in the 2008 Times Higher Educational Survey. NUS has consistently occupied the top 50 positions.

    Answering critics that Singapore run a Lee family enterprise, he quipped, “We run a meritocracy. It is against my interest to allow any family member who’s incompetent to hold an important job because that would be a disaster for Singapore and my legacy. That cannot be allowed.”


  15. Chauncey Gardener
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 03:19:06

    daffodils comment “What really set this complex man apart from Asia’s other nation-builders is what he didn’t do: he did not become corrupt, and he did not stay in power too long. ” is so true.

    And as a result, he has set the benchmark high for those who follow.


  16. jughead
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 10:49:04


    Why so silent? Where are your remarks about Singapore being a racist country – promoting non malays?
    To me, LKY has far vision. Race is a very delicated issue and by up setting the balance, leaders have to find a new course and ways of dealing with them. Just look at Australia. Now they have to deal with new issues brought by increased immigrants such as religion, wars, different way of thinking and even riots such as Lebanese, Sri Lankans in Tamil conflict, religious issues such as building more mosques in christian areas as their population increases. The matters will not be so serious if they are a very minority.


  17. Taikohtai
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 14:02:58


    Short term gains, long term pains. That’s the BIG difference between Malaysia and Singapore. Yet, the ruling warlords will never admit to their shortsightedness or myopic policies.

    As an aside, we still have Sultans flying to Singapore on medical grounds, the most recent being Kelantan’s. And then they got themselves into deeper strife when their royal conduct got totally exposed
    Hate to say it but Malaysia is now to Singapore today what Thailand was once to Malaysia.


  18. tanmankuan
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 15:31:16

    While there are many things that I do not appreciate of LKY, I cannot but admire his great statesmanship, his intelligence and his pursuit of excellence for his country and countrymen.

    On the other hand, our pitiful circumstances is very well alluded to by the comments of ruyon and clarence.

    I can very well remember the days when we, as Malaysians were very proud of our country’s development and status vis a vis almost all Asian countries, with the exception of Japan. But sadly, after 30 to 40 years of abuses and maladministration by the government, we are all very familiar with the status and development of the Malaysia today.

    Now, the question for all of us, and our future generations, whose stakes are in and with this country, is if we should just accept the going ons and lets just live with it? Or perhaps do a little more than what we or our predecessors has done? But what need to be done, should we aspire for a better future for this country and its people is pretty obvious. The choice is ours to make.


  19. vikiram
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 21:28:59

    PKR had made reforms…….so where is gerakan heading?


    For your info,
    “It is a reflection of the graceful decline in Penang over the past 18 years. Between his last visit in 1989 to now, Lee has not seen much improvement,” he (Lim Guan Eng) said, referring to the Gerakan government of the past.



  20. a gerakan member
    Jun 14, 2009 @ 15:12:35

    gerakan has been talking about reforms since march2008 GE. But what reform have we seen? I did not see or hear any…..maybe I am blind n deaf.
    If there is any reform, i think it should start like lowering age limit for youth from 45 to 40 (or 38 as Dr Hsu commented last week).

    Maybe should allow for direct voting by all members instead of just delegates.


  21. jughead
    Jun 14, 2009 @ 19:45:40

    We still have too many political parties – too divided to have the roght people to run the government. That is what LKY is paying good money to entice people to run the government. Otherwise we will have clowns and circus as happen in Malaysia. LKY even looking for foreign talents and made them PR. On the other hand, Gerakan may have the same aspirations, but rather remain in the BN or to be the third force. End results, Malaysia will NEVER have capable people to run the government because the capable people think of party first even Gerakan, PPP and DAP almost have the shared values in the early days before the 70s. Rather than united, they prefer to act individually.


  22. notmelah
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 17:31:38

    To stay relevant and marketable in an open marketplace means you have to keep running and competing and re-training. Your cost of living is high. You have few open spaces. You can’t really afford to relax. And the govt is thinking of importing even more foreigners.

    No doubt, Singapore has always been in overdrive. We produce people of very low tolerance which frequently evolved into arrogance. But it is really the rock and the deep blue sea. We want to relax but can’t really afford to. And we do and say things (just watch our drivers) that doesn’t say we are living well.

    There is a price to pay for ‘progress’. Be careful of what you wish for. 🙂


  23. A true Malaysian
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 23:41:33


    I guess you are a Singaporean or a PR staying in Singapore. What you wrote is very true that not everything in Singapore is rossy. To be at tip-top condition, most of the people in Singapore need to at top of their nerves which cause reaction of intolerance and arrogance.

    That is the reason why many of us decided to stay put in Malaysia despite of its shortcomings, but such shortcomings had snowballed over the years and has caused hardship to our day to day life.

    Malaysia and Singapore are both at extreme ends with one is at least competent and another at the most competent. Only if both nations can work together to achieve an equilibrium, people of both sides can enjoy better quality of life. How nice, right?

    But, due to historical baggage and different mindsets of its people, there remain a certain degree of mistrust that hindered leaders of both nations work together whole-heartedly to achieve the equilibrium that I mentioned above, as what we read in a report of The Malaysian Insider titled “Umno would rather burn bridges than sell sand”


    and this happened one day after MM Lee concluded his ‘triumphant visit’ (as described by another MM), where PM of Malaysia undertakes to work closely with Singapore. So, I don’t know how would your MM Lee interpret his just concluded visit to Malaysia.

    But, I would say things will be better in future if Pakatan Rakyat rules Federal and State levels in next few years. We need new set of more principled leaders to give us fresh hope and promising future.

    Let’s keep our fingers crossed. 😀


  24. notmelah
    Jun 17, 2009 @ 10:07:25

    True Malaysian,
    I’m not sure if we can label S’pore as ‘most competent’. All I can say is that LKY and his team are honest brokers and had set a very high watermark. However, due to a weak opposition, there is an absence of a robust ‘external audit’ of its current positions. But you may say economic achievements are obvious to even mere observation. But like I mentioned, there is a price to pay. You can’t just run, you have to run at least as fast as the next guy. And the govt is intent on bringing in even more runners.

    And for those who point to our per capita gap, try cost of living. Try pigeon holes we call home. Try having a conversation with someone who really thinks he/she ‘has arrived’ and actually know something. Insufferable!

    But thing is, and I’m tempted to say the tragedy is, and Thailand is a guide, if you can just do away with some of your inefficiencies, just add a bit of commonsense business practices, as Thaksin did, I have no doubts whatsoever Malaysia will be a the apex of ASEAN.

    I hope you get there in my generation, I wish to retire there. 🙂


  25. A true Malaysian
    Jun 17, 2009 @ 12:20:59


    I know what you mean. Thanks for sharing.

    To me, land size is the limitation for Singapore. This is part of the reason why I mentioned ‘equilibrium’ where if there is no problem of trust, development in Singapore maybe spilled over to Malaysia more freely and you guys can enjoy larger space to move around, instead of limited space in your country.

    Better still, if Asean can achieve the status like EU, where no passport is necessary for its people to move around. By then, everyone of us can enjoy the unique hospitality of each country. How nice, right?


  26. Asianeconomies
    Jun 18, 2009 @ 18:06:22

    Malaysia has undervalued land and underutlised labour force while Singapore has insufficient land mass and insufficient skilled manpower to provide a doemstic demand buffer against global economic cycles.

    So a true partnership will reap enormous dividends for both.

    As to the past 50 years of disparity in income and progress, the main factor is mental attitude. Read about it at :



  27. a lim
    Jun 18, 2009 @ 20:22:03

    At independence, the average Singaporean was two and a half times richer than a Malaysian. Has the gap narrowed? No. Instead we are now six times poorer, in terms of per capita income!
    This is despite the fact that we are one of the world’s richest oil producers. In 2008, Petronas earned USD18bn, more money than Bank of America, Microsoft or Toyota. Where has the money (our money) gone?
    Good governance can make such a difference!


  28. A true Malaysian
    Jun 18, 2009 @ 23:39:26

    “Malaysia has undervalued land and underutlised labour force while Singapore has insufficient land mass……”

    Exactly what I mean here. But why this logic reasoning is ‘not logical’ to Malaysia under Umno rule?

    Just look at Iskandar, which supposed to work on this logic but on the other hand, worry of losing the ownership of the land, and worry that foreigners populated Iskandar, instead of looking into prosperity that can be generated through cooperation between both sides.

    Can Malaysia develop Iskandar all by its own self without investment from Singapore or other developed country, and keep ownership of the land to themselves? Will that be another wide elephant after pouring billion of ringgit in it?

    Maybe we can use the word ‘malaise’ to describe Malay sia? On one hand you want this, on the other hand you also want that. Logical?


  29. sosong
    Jun 19, 2009 @ 16:57:00

    Sporean must thanks Msia, for providing so many talented ppl for them. i.e. they must thank UMNO for allowing this to happen.


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